The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Ideal and Jimson, both articulate and fiery, are doomed because their ingrained fears and defenses prevent them from trusting each other. Language, instead of working as a communicative bond between them, becomes so exaggerated and overblown that it creates a divisive wall. They rail against each other in florid, convoluted prose, often becoming so involved in their tirades that they seem to disappear into a forest of words. Polite gives almost no description of either Ideal’s or Jimson’s physical characteristics. The work of characterization is done through dialogue. What starts as realistic conversation between the two invariably picks up speed and becomes more and more grandiose. The monumental quality of their words elevates both characters above the realm of everyday reality and transforms them into larger-than-life figureheads of “black man” and “black woman.”

Polite’s use of dialogue establishes an ironic inconsistency between what the characters say and what they do: Both are trying to escape from the stereotyped roles their defensiveness forces them to project onto each other, but their language works against their demands for individuality and reestablishes them as stereotypes. The more the two argue about their individuality, the more their hyperbolic language suggests that they are indeed representations of stereotypes.

Even the characters’ names imply that they are larger-than-life, mythical figures. Ideal’s name...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ideal, the heroine, a headstrong young black woman who was reared in a Southern black community. Ideal abandons both her career and her financially stable marriage to live with Jimson, the beautiful man of her dreams. She eventually grows to resent their poverty and Jimson’s apparent lack of interest in finding employment. Ideal complains that Jimson’s behavior places her in the problematic role of the black matriarch, forced to be stronger than the man she supports. In some ways, Ideal draws her identity from Jimson’s dependence. When he finally finds a job with the Bureaucratique, Ideal feels abandoned and becomes obsessed with the notion that he is involved with another woman, whom she refers to as “The Byzantine Lady Under Glass,” from the title of one of Jimson’s poems. Although she truly loves Jimson, Ideal finally asks Jimson to leave because she realizes that they are destroying each other.


Jimson, the hero, a black poet who responds to Ideal’s demands that he seek employment by telling her that as an artist, it is a waste for him to squander his mental energy working for the white society. Jimson grows to resent what he perceives as Ideal’s attempt to play the part of the dominant matriarch in their relationship. At the end of the novel, finally confessing to a love affair with another woman, Jimson tells Ideal that he has cheated on her because, like all black women, she is never...

(The entire section is 480 words.)